Patriots need the full force of Matt Judon down the stretch

Matthew Judon #9 of the New England Patriots. Photo by Billie Weiss/Getty Images
Matthew Judon #9 of the New England Patriots. Photo by Billie Weiss/Getty Images /

That’s not how Matthew Judon wanted to start the final stretch of the season. The New England Patriots pass rusher, and NFL leader in sacks with 13, came up empty against the Minnesota Vikings.

Being shut out isn’t new to Judon. He failed to bag a QB in two games this season. And the Vikings paid him a lot of extra attention. It goes with the territory of being an elite pass rusher.

The worry is will Judon’s production tail off like it did last season.

The New England Patriots defense will struggle if Matt Judon fades down the stretch.

As you may recall, Judon didn’t have a single sack in his final four games last year. It coincided with the New England Patriots playing their worst football of the season. Judon and the defense mustered just four sacks. QB Mac Jones hit the rookie wall. The Patriots went 1-3 to close the regular season, beating the lowly Jacksonville Jaguars.

And in the playoff loss to the Bills, the defense not only didn’t sack Buffalo Bills QB Josh Allen, but the Patriots didn’t even force a punt.

New England can’t afford to fall apart this year. Right now they are on the outside looking in for a wild card spot with a difficult remaining schedule. The combined record for their remaining opponents is 39-28.

To make matters worse, Judon and the Patriots have to find success against athletic passers. The Buffalo’s Allen and the Arizona Cardinals’ Kyler Murray are dual threats while the other three passers remaining on the schedule have the ability to extend plays.

Athletic quarterbacks have been impossible for the Patriots to corral this season. The Baltimore Ravens’ Lamar Jackson and the Chicago Bears’ Justin Fields embarrassed New England’s D at Gillette Stadium. And the Patriots are currently on a three game losing streak to the Miami Dolphins’ Tua Tagovailoa, completing 66 percent of his passes with four total touchdowns (one rush) and one interception.

It will probably take 10 wins to make the playoffs. That means going 4-2 the rest of the way. A saving grace would be if the Dolphins and Bills don’t have anything to play for in the final two weeks of the season and rest their starters. But both teams probably want to stick it to their divisional opponent for 20 years of AFC East dominance.

New year, fresher Judon?

Judon is well aware of how he closed out the 2021 season, and he spent the off-season working on improving his conditioning:

"“It’s a long season. I got to be fresh,” Judon said when asked about improvements he was looking to make this season. “I’ve been asking some older veterans about how they did it, how they made it through year upon year of being great throughout the whole season. My conditioning level, that’s a big thing I’m working on.”"

Hopefully the work pays off, but the New England Patriots are trying to help. Through six games Judon’s snap count was down nine percent in comparison to last season. It’s now up to 12 percent through eleven games. And Judon hasn’t played on special teams since week two.

If Judon can’t maintain his level of play, all hope isn’t lost. Judon believes his teammates will pick up their play. Deatrich Wise Jr. is having a career year. And Josh Uche has five sacks over his last four games, including a three sack game against the Indianapolis Colts and the lone takedown of Vikings’ QB Curt Cousins.

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A better storyline would be Judon’s emerging teammates prevent opponents from focusing on Judon and he keeps piling on the sacks. As a team the New England Patriots already has more sacks this season than they had all of last year. And so does Judon.

The question Judon must answer is can he keep to momentum going all the way through week 18.